“For the Pleasure of All Who Pass By”: Grand Conceptions, Conflict, and Collective Discontent on the Confederate Landscape

by Evie Terrono In August of 1907, thousands gathered in Pittsboro, North Carolina, to celebrate the unveiling of the town’s Confederate monument in front of the courthouse. Mrs. Henry A. London, the President of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who had written 1,600 letters in a little over three years to effect its realization, proclaimed triumphantly “Our Winnie Davis Chapter is alive and active.”1 In September of 1907, only a month after this adulatory comment, someone defaced the monument with “black shoe polish and grease,” and the local newspaper castigated this as “one of the most disgraceful acts of vandalism ever known in a civilized community.”2 110 years later, in August of 2017, protesters pulled down the Confederate monument (1904) at Durham, North Carolina, less than thirty miles away from Pittsboro. The toppling of this Confederate citizen soldier at Durham made its literal and ideological obliteration from the urban landscape seem both easily achievable and an immediate response to exigent demands bringing attention to the indefensible ideals of these markers and their fraught political currency.3 Following the eruption of racist violence in Charleston and Baltimore, in 2015, and across the United States since, Confederate monuments have become the locus of political activism, and these partisan commemorative gestures, and other symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Confederate flag, have accelerated official and unofficial responses. From New Orleans, Atlanta and Charleston, to Charlottesville and Richmond, to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore and St. Louis, and Austin, Texas, and Helena, Montana, Confederate monuments have been altered or eliminated, and debates over their inception, meaning and function have been both protracted and contentious, in many ways reiterating the campaigns that originated the monuments in the first place. Much has been written about the false ennobling beliefs that turned them into sacred sites of Lost Cause ideals that continue to be venerated by their adherents to our own day. The recognition of the suppressive ideological purview of the monuments has largely ignored the broader social and cultural anxieties which were upper-most in the minds of patrons, and the widespread nativist sentiment that sustained these ventures at times when social, economic, and political dislocations generated broader cultural regressions towards idealized versions of the American past. Current conversations have also disregarded the national embrace of Lost Cause ideals among white northern populations whose sympathetic return to the highly-mythologized past of the Confederacy provided an escape from, but also a defense against contemporary anxieties throughout the 20th century.4 Recent publicly enacted, confrontations have alerted Americans to the sheer numbers of Confederate monuments, primarily of the mass-produced citizen soldier, and to the persistent and enthusiastic efforts of the stalwart memorialists of the Confederacy, primarily the United Daughters of the Confederacy who engineered this vast landscape in urban squares and cemeteries. The assumption has been that it was southern, white, Christian women who venerated the fallen of the Confederacy, but this was not always the case, as it is evident in Richmond where the local Hebrew Ladies Memorial Association, formed in 1866, dedicated a plaque to the “Memory of the Hebrew Confederate Soldiers” in the mid-20th century.5 One would be hard pressed to uncover much public discourse about these monuments prior to the 2010s, excepting a few academics, art historians foremost among them, who have analyzed them and have exposed, and contested, their intimidating and demoralizing authority and their reinforcement of exclusionary practices against African Americans. Although conversations have focused on the racist implications of these monuments, there are only passing references to their creators, sculptors and architects, and their investment in the complex and complicated debates surrounding their realization. We should remember that no other than Augustus Saint Gaudens (1848-1907) contested the initial iconography of the Lee Monument (1890) in Richmond as not befitting the character of Lee, northern sculptors actualized most of the monuments, and in 1938, upwards of 70 of them sought to recreate the likeness of Stonewall Jackson and his beloved horse Sorrel for the Manassas Battlefield, some offering truly radical, modernist designs that in their audacious disregard for propriety and decorum, upset southern men and women in Richmond. Unqualified assumptions that everyone involved in these competitions was racially motivated oversimplifies the issues and compromises our ability to engage in meaningful and productive scholarship. Although Vinnie Ream (1847-1914), who competed for the Lee Monument in Richmond, nurtured Confederate sympathies in her youth, Laura Fraser (1889-1966), the sculptor of the Lee and Jackson Monument (1948) in Baltimore, had dual ties to both the North and the South, and her maternal grandfather, Theodore Tilton (1835-1907), an important poet, newspaper editor and abolitionist, had published sonnets in the memory of Frederick Douglass.6 Paul Manship (1885-1966) and Lee Oscar Lawrie (1877-1963) were among those who competed for this commission, and Russell Pope (1874-1937), who created the pedestal for the Lee and Jackson Monument, benefitted the most financially from this project. One has to interrogate the ideological commitment of these artists to Confederate ideologies, considering that with their work they commemorated not only the actors of the Confederacy, but also concurrently those who fought for the Union, and even the achievements and the challenges that African Americans faced. Such is the case of Charles Keck (1905-1954), who sculpted the Stonewall Jackson Monument (1921) in Charlottesville that has motivated extraordinary violence, but also the statue of Booker T. Washington (1922) at Tuskegee, thus revealing multi-dimensional perspectives in effect at the time that these monuments were created. Similarly, there is little public awareness of the governmental complicity throughout the 20th century not only to affirm Confederate memories, but also sustain the monumental enterprise, as evidenced with the minting in 1925 of five million silver half dollars coined at the instruction of Calvin Coolidge in order to advance the Stone Mountain Monument to the Confederacy.7 Equally unknown is the extent of this landscape beyond the South, as far west as Oakland, California and Helena Montana, where in 1916, the northernmost monument to the Confederacy, a rather innocuous fountain was dedicated as a “loving tribute” to Confederate soldiers as part of an urban revitalization project. In August of 2017, in the aftermath of the white Supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Montana’s Native American legislators called for its removal, citing the monument’s oppressive impact upon minority populations.8 As early as 1890, at the dedication of the Lee Monument on Monument Avenue, John Mitchell, who, as the 'fighting editor' of the Planet, Richmond’s black newspaper, had exposed the atrocities of lynching, the escalation of racial violence, and the disfranchisement of his fellow blacks, opposed both the physicality of the landscape and its implied narrative, but disagreements over the monuments subsided until the rancorous arguments surrounding the Arthur Ashe Monument in Richmond in the 1990s alerted audiences to the socio-political dimensions of the landscape. Although there is clear evidence of contestation against some of the monuments at their inception, and at their celebratory dedications, particularly against the Lee and Jackson Monument in Baltimore the Confederate Monument (1914) in St. Louis, and the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument (1903) in Baltimore, opposition to the monuments for most of the 20th century and even at the height of the Civil Rights era was minimal.

Frederick W. Ruckstuhl. Spirit of the Confederacy Monument, Baltimore. 1903. Photo credit: Evie Terrono. 2017.
Early in this century, yarn bombers undermined the authority of these monuments by putting leg warmers on the horses of Lee and Jackson in Baltimore, and providing the lone soldier commemorating the Richmond Howitzers with a knit scarf and a hat to keep him warm in the winter months. Escalating racist conflict in the last few years and broader social justice concerns have eroded the public’s complacency over these monuments, have focused attention on the politics of the actors of the Civil War and the contentious memories and commemorations of the conflict, and have generated ideological interventions in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Graffiti on many of the monuments has exposed unresolved grievances, and although deemed as vandalism, it has revealed that for the first time, Americans are engaging consciously with the broad commemorative landscape, interrogating its iconography and currency, aiming all the while to foreground persistent racial injustices. The “whitewashing” of historical realities has literally been projected onto these monuments, as was evidenced in Phoenix, Arizona, where the Confederate monument was sprayed white and a white cross was painted at its base. Red paint was used repeatedly in the summer of 2017 to deface monuments across the country including Atlanta’s Peace Monument (1911) and the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Baltimore, marking both the historical and current violence against African Americans. Media of mass communication have accelerated and popularized these and other alterations, have broadcast the vandalism, and have amplified private and public activism. Contemporary political and social discontent has prompted an ongoing discourse, not only about the dialectic potency of these monuments, but has also re-inscribed their erstwhile defunct aspirations and outmoded narratives into urgent deliberations about black marginality, oppression and victimization, racial conflict, but also racial solidarity.9 Mayoral commissions established to research the large-scale monuments in public spaces and decide their fate have generally excluded art historians, thus focusing primarily on the ideologies of those portrayed, with little concern over the specific circumstances of the monumental undertakings, the identity of their creators, their specific iconography, and their broader relationship to other contemporary cultural enterprises. The majority of the important Confederate monuments around the country have not been studied, they have not been photographed in detail, and the specifics of the surrounding urban geography has not been recorded. American art scholars have a unique opportunity here to situate these sculptures within the broader commemorative landscape, study the large archival record in order to decipher the possible ideological allegiances and motivations of their creators and the cultural and artistic relevance of these monuments, and articulate their historical rhetorical dynamics. As Patricia Phillips has remarked, public art can provide a “forum for investigation, articulation and constructive reappraisal,” that could be “amended by a multiplicity of philosophical, political, and civil issues.”10 Although public fora have provided platforms for communal input, decisions as to the fate of these monuments have been taken unilaterally, and often covertly. In the public record, art historians and historians alike are divided over the fate of these monuments, with competing arguments ranging from meaningful contextualization to sculptural or textual counter-narratives, while most often removal has dominated the conversation.11 Curiously, although the offending sculptures have been removed in Baltimore and elsewhere, the inscriptions on their massive pedestals which carry the most explicitly polemical narratives remain in-situ. Others have proposed that the monuments and the surrounding sites be left to the vagaries of environment and time, thus leading to their eventual physical and ideological degeneration, or that the bronze be melted and refashioned into monuments to African Americans, and at least one writer has proposed that citizens be invited to a mass iconoclastic ritual during which the bronze monuments are smashed into pieces, but be left in-situ as everlasting reminders of collective resistance to their oppressive narratives.12 Many who have called for removal advocate for museums, battlefields, and cemeteries to receive these monuments, and lastly proposals have surfaced about massive Confederate parks, where these statues will be displayed at eye level, thus compromising their supervisory authority. Already, in many cities, the contestation of these sites has energized both temporary counter-monuments and initiatives to correct and complement the historical landscape with monuments to the achievements of African Americans, as in the recently dedicated monument to entrepreneur and black activist Maggie Walker (2017) in Richmond, Virginia, but also the brutalization of African Americans and the prospective hope for conciliation in the much-anticipated Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Justice Park, Charlottesville. September 10, 2017. Photo credit: Evie Terrono. 2017.
Historical memorial plaques affixed on the periphery of Justice Park (previously Jackson Park), the location of the Stonewall Jackson monument in Charlottesville, and more recent additions highlight the breadth and depth of the oppositional narratives. In 1921, Paul Goodloe McIntire, a major benefactor of the city who undertook an ambitious program of urban uplift in the context of the City Beautiful movement, purchased the site and dedicated the statue of Jackson to the city of his birth, expressing his aspiration that it would be “for the pleasure of all who pass by.” In 1972, a local civic league rededicated the park to Mary Frazier Cash, a local activist whose “leadership in community affairs and good government, her infinite tolerance and her hopes for protection of our heritage remain indelibly inspiring.” During my recent visit (Sept. 10, 2017), an embroidered band, wrapped around a tree on the perimeters of the park, read “Disarm Hate.” Herein lies the challenge of collectively satisfactory responses to our ongoing dilemmas over these commemorative spaces: these erstwhile sanctuaries of heritage and southern identity are now exposed as reminders of discrimination, injustice, and violence. Despite the liminality of their fate what is clearly evident is that many no longer derive pleasure from these fraught sites of memory.
1. “Pittsboro, Winnie Davis Chapter, No. 259,” United Daughters of the Confederacy, North Carolina Division. Minutes of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy North Carolina Division, Held at Winston-Salem, North Carolina, October 25, 26, 27, 1921 (Gastonia, N.C.: Brumley-Walters Printing Co.), 145. [Accessed September 20, 2017]. 2. “Monument Defaced,” Chatham Record, September 5, 1907. 3. See Sarah Beethan, “From Spray Cans to Minivans: Contesting the Legacy of Confederate Soldier Monuments in the Era of ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Public Art Dialogue, 6, 1 (2016): 9-33. 4. For an analysis of this perspective see, Evie Terrono, “Great Generals and Christian Soldiers: Commemorations of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the Civil Rights Era,” in Civil War in Art and Memory, Kirk Savage, Ed. in the National Gallery of Art Studies in the History of Art (Yale University Press, 2016), 147-170. 5. Timothy Sedore, An illustrated Guide to Virginia’s Confederate Monuments (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), 156. 6. Theodore Tilton, Sonnets to the Memory of Frederick Douglass (Paris: Brentano’s, 1895). 7. Grace E. Hale, “Granite Stopped Time: The Stone Mountain Memorial and the Representation of White Southern Identify,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 82, 1 (spring 1998): 30. 8. “It’s Time to Remove the Confederate Memorial from Helena,” Great Falls Tribune, August 15, 2017. [accessed September 1. 2017]. 9. The expansiveness of the contestation that now includes other ideologically provocative monuments, among them those Marion Sims (1892, reinstalled 1934), and Theodore Roosevelt (1940) in New York City and the monuments to Sacagawea, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1919) in Charlottesville, has foregrounded for the public the identity of the historical American commemorative landscape that privileges dominant narratives to the exclusion of more nuanced perspectives. 10. Patricia Phillips, “Temporality and Public Art,” in Critical Issues in Public Art, Harriett F. Senie and Sally Webster, eds. (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), 296-297. 11. The public debates over the fate of these monuments are innumerable, see “Robin Pogrebin and Sopan Deb, “Trump Aside, Artists and Preservationists Debate the Rush to Topple Statues.” New York Times, August 18, 2017 [accessed August 20, 2017]. 12. Megan Kate Nelson, in “Empty Pedestals: What Should be Done with Civic monument to the Confederacy and its Leaders,” Civil War Times Magazine, October 2017 [accessed October 2017].
Fall 2017 | Volume 9, Issue 2
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